The Americas Division is responsible for bilateral relations with 35 states on the American continent from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, including the Caribbean. Its main task is to coordinate Swiss policy towards these countries.
The division is in regular contact with Switzerland's representations in the countries concerned (embassies, consulates general, consulates, honorary consulates, Swiss liaison and programme offices). It plays an active role in determining and implementing bilateral foreign policy. It analyses and monitors current events on an ongoing basis and the development of the political, economic and social situation on the American continent. Its main activities include:
- coordination of the bilateral activities of the different departments of the Federal Administration;
- development of policy positions and implementation of Swiss foreign policy at bilateral level in consultation with Switzerland's diplomatic representations in the countries concerned and the embassies of these states in Switzerland;
- formulation of policy recommendations and strategies to shape Swiss policy on the Americas;
- organisation, preparation and follow-up of trips abroad by the head and state secretary of the FDFA; development of dossiers in preparation of trips abroad by the president of the Swiss Confederation and by other heads of department;
- preparation of visits by foreign delegations to the head and state secretary of the FDFA; input for other high-level visits to Switzerland;
- preparation of information about bilateral relations with the countries of the Americas for the Federal Council, Parliament, the Federal Administration, the media and interested citizens;
- networking with interested circles, such as chambers of commerce, parliamentary associations, charities and non-governmental organisations;
- management of several protecting power mandates for third states by the Foreign Interests Service, which is attached to the Americas Division.
The Americas Division is divided into two regional coordination teams: North and Central America Regional Coordination, which also covers the Caribbean, and South America Regional Coordination. The regional coordination teams are responsible for the coordination and systematic cultivation of bilateral relations with countries in the region. They are the hub between Swiss representations in the Americas and the Federal Administration. They also network with the embassies of countries of the Americas which are accredited in Switzerland, and with external bodies which have dealings with the region.
Switzerland is committed to improving the legal frameworks (trade, investment, tax, innovation) in the region with the aim of further developing the comparatively close economic relations it enjoys. It is also working with like-minded countries in the Americas on the multilateral stage to champion its own multilateral priorities.
Three priorities should be mentioned in this context:
- Peace and security: Switzerland works with the United States in specific areas to support a rules-based global security architecture. The impact of internal conflicts in Latin America will continue to necessitate humanitarian aid and good offices where needed. Switzerland helps to alleviate need in the aftermath of natural disasters in the region.
- Prosperity: Relations with regionally important states will be intensified, particularly in the areas of trade, investment, vocational education and training, science, and innovation. The career prospects of people in Latin America should be sustainably improved to curb poverty and crime.
- Expansion of presence in and cooperation with regional organisations: The priorities are governance, human rights, combating corruption and impunity, economic development and sustainability, disaster risk reduction, innovation and vocational education and training.
North and Central America Regional Coordination
North and Central America Regional Coordination is responsible for Switzerland's bilateral relations with the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Central American states and the states of the Caribbean. The United States occupies a commanding position in this regard as it is by far Switzerland's most important partner outside Europe, particularly in terms of the economy and research. Political consultations with the United States take place on an annual basis. Switzerland also seeks regular contact with American interlocutors in the margins of multilateral events and has regular political contacts with Canada and Mexico, which are both members of the G20. These two countries are important partners for Switzerland as regards economic relations and cooperation in multilateral forums. In the Caribbean the main focus is on Cuba and Haiti, where Switzerland runs a substantial cooperation and reconstruction programme.
South America Regional Coordination
South America Regional Coordination is responsible for Switzerland’s bilateral relations with the countries in the region and for coordinating federal policy on these countries. With a total of nine embassies, Switzerland has an extensive network of diplomatic relations in South America. Switzerland's close and diverse bilateral relations, as well as major investments, reflect its strong historical ties with the region (Swiss migration in the 19th and 20th centuries). Switzerland maintains regular political contact with Brazil (BRICS and G20), Argentina (G20), as well as Colombia, Chile and Peru (together with Mexico, these three countries make up the Pacific Alliance, in which Switzerland has observer status). Development cooperation efforts focus on Colombia (SECO, SDC, HSD), Bolivia (SDC) and Peru (SECO, SDC).
Foreign Interests Service
The Foreign Interests Service manages a number of protecting power mandates. For example, it represents the interests of the United States in Iran, Russia in Georgia, and Georgia in Russia. Switzerland's safeguarding of the interests of the US in Iran is based on a comprehensive (consular and diplomatic) mandate. The mandates for Russia and Georgia are handled locally by the foreign interest sections of the embassies in the countries concerned and by their own personnel. These foreign interest sections are placed under Swiss protecting power under international law.
Switzerland's mandate for the United States and Iran goes back to the hostage crisis of 1980. Since then, all consular matters, with the exception of visas, for American citizens visiting or residing in Iran (e.g. passport applications, changes in civil status, social insurance, consular protection and notarial services) have been looked after by the United States Interests Section in Tehran operating under the Swiss embassy and the Foreign Interests Service at head office in Bern, which also acts as a liaison office to the United States embassy in Bern.
Head of division: One diplomatic officer with rank of ambassador
Deputy head of division and regional coordinator for North and Central America: One diplomatic officer with rank of minister
Regional coordinator for South America: One diplomatic officer
Regional specialists: Four diplomatic and research staff (United States, Canada and Central America, Caribbean and South America)
Secretariat: Two staff members
Foreign Interests Service: One consular officer, one administrator